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See You Soon by Charlie BaRker

As I wrap up this incredible year I say goodbye to the people at the office, the kiddos and staff at church, my host family, our good and wise teacher, Scotty Smith, and most of all the Fellows. I am one of the few Fellows who are leaving Nashville this summer, so this is a little bit more difficult for me. These past two weeks have been the greatest time to reflect on what has been the most impactful year of my life. The foundation that the Nashville Fellows Program has given me will hold for the rest of my life and I have no fear of it shattering. I have my new brother and seven sisters to thank for that. 

 

Now I will say a few personal goodbye’s.  I hope it will give you insight into how much the main communities of The Nashville Fellows Program mean to all of us:

 

Goodbye, Host Family

The very first thing I did when I came to Nashville in August was arrive at the lovely home of Dale and Annette Pacetti. Pulling into a neighborhood that blew me away, I began to think…”welcome to fancy livin’, Sir Charles. Soak it in, because you won’t live like this ever again”. Now, what you may not know is that I actually grew up in Nashville earlier in my life and hung out at the Pacetti’s home. I remember playing soccer in the backyard or playing mafia upstairs with the Pacetti kids in the bonus room while our parents had a party downstairs…you know…the boring kind with lots of talking. Anyways, it was so great to catch up with them and be accepted as their fellow for the year. I thank them for being so hospitable, gracious, and caring to me. They answered all of my life questions, helped me with my interviews, and provided so many delicious meals for me. I could not have asked for better host parents. I will miss them very much.

 

Goodbye, Metacake

Metacake is the marketing agency I have been working for this past year and I have had a blast. I have acquired a wide range of new skills to take with me to any job that I take on. I most appreciate this company’s efficiency and work environment. The Metacake Team sure knows how to get work done and I have learned a great amount on how to work in a fast-thinking and rapidly growing company. Metacake keeps up with multiple client-companies at a time and to do that, you must be able to communicate with your team and keep up with relevant news about each client-company. I am incredibly thankful for the way they do work. This company also has a fun and efficient work environment. It is a team-based environment where almost everyone works in the same room with desks facing each other in order to communicate quickly, without taking up too much time. It has also been a pleasure working in a Christian environment. I have been able to integrate my faith into my work and see how it truly benefits the company and the people who come in contact with the company. I will miss the Metacake team.

 

Goodbye, CPC

Christ Presbyterian Church has been an overwhelming source of joy and a great place to be filled up by so many loving people. I will miss the CPC community immensely. I attended school and church here from 2nd - 7th grade and to see how much the community has grown since then is awesome! I have had the pleasure of volunteering with both the Children’s Ministry and Youth Ministry for the past 9 months and I am so grateful for my experiences in both. I will miss leading games for the 5th and 6th graders, helping the elementary students learn what it’s like to be in the sanctuary and help them understand certain concepts of “Big Church”. I will also miss the Senior High students of CPC Youth who have been an encouragement to me as I see how much they grow within the culture in which we live today. They are smart, fun, and I’m going to miss the good times I’ve had with them. As for the staff of CPC all together, I will miss them, as they have become family to me. Each one of them has encouraged me in my faith and poured into me when I needed it most. Hanging out at Centennial Park with the CPC staff are some of my favorite memories here in Nashville. Thank you, CPC, for being so impactful in my Fellows year. It means so much to feel loved and feel a part of such an amazing community of fellow believers.

 

Goodbye, Fellows

To my Fellows Class, I save the biggest goodbye. They are my family now and from here on out, we are going to show this world what we got, and what we got is each other. By this, I mean that these Fellows have made each other different people in many ways and we are going to show this world our new-found selves by showing how we can break bread with community and grow in deeper relationships with others. We will show the world that we can work hard and enjoy our work because there is a greater reason to work than just money. We will show the world how we can volunteer the mess out of a church community. And most of all we will show the world that the love of Jesus Christ is within us and He is the foundation of our work, our relationships, and our community!! I am proud to be a part of the Fellows Class of 2017 and I will miss them dearly, but this is not goodbye, my brother and sisters, for I will see you soon.

 

All of this to say…The Nashville Fellows Program has impacted the rest of my life and I am absolutely better off because of it. Please, if you aren’t already, reach out and get involved with this incredible program, because this train is rollin’ and it Ain’t. Gonna. Stop! Peace.

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Journaling by Ali McIlhenny

To tell the complete truth, I put this blog post off until the very last minute. Tonight at round table I was talking with someone about what I should write my last post on and out of complete laziness I joked that “maybe I will just copy something out of my journal and call it a day”. When I got home tonight, opened up my computer and wasn't producing many thoughts, I glanced over at my journals stacked up on the bedside table. I was struck with the amount of writing I had done in them this past year. As I looked at those journals, I realized how much I valued their contents. Flipping through the pages I noticed the blotted ink from my tear stained prayers. The moments when I was pleading with God to redeem this and help me get through that. Also, the blotted ink from tear stained journal entries of utter thankfulness for the grace that I have received this year from a community that knows and loves me in the most pure way. These pages hold my thoughts, prayers, joys, struggles and progression of so much growth. Opening up to May one year ago, I was about to graduate from college and leaving a community of people I really wasn't sure I could live without. Reading through the prayer I wrote exactly a year ago resonated deeply with me. I realized I have come full circle. I am about to graduate from the Fellows Program and leave a community of people that I am really not sure I can live without.

With that being said, I don't think it would be such a bad idea after all to copy a prayer from a journal entire of where I was a year ago. Keeping in mind that my thoughts aren't necessarily profound and my writing isn't all that dense.  

May 8th, 2016:

“The past couple of days I haven’t been able to sleep much. My heart is breaking because my time here is coming to an end. Every time I close my eyes, time speeds up. Before I know it I am going to be driving out of this city that I have grown to know and love so well, leaving all the people who have helped shape me into the person I am today.

I don't want to sleep, I don't want time to pass so quickly. Lord, why does this have to end? These people have become my family. I am scared to move forward without them. But as I think about them, I am filled with so much gratefulness. You did not have to give me all these people in my life, but you did. Because you love me. You love me so so much and I can see it most through these people. They have continued to pour into me these past four years and they are a reflection of the abundant love you have for me. The bond that I have made with these people is unlike any other. I feel so undeserving of all the blessings I have received. Why me? How have I taken advantage of all these blessings? How can I use it for your glory? You deserve it all, not me. You should be the one showered with these blessings. You are perfect, holy and blameless. It doesn't make sense that I receive anything really. I screw up consistently, yet you never leave or fail me. I devote my life to you Lord, all I have should be yours. You are the one that deserves all good things. Thank you for sharing with me though ☺. Lord prepare my heart for when tough situations come my way. Always give me a reason to sing your praises. Actually no, there is always a reason to sing your praises because you are good and you are my God.”

Who knew that Ali a year ago would need to pray this exact same prayer to current day Ali? I needed to see how scared I was a year ago today and reflect on how far God has brought me. I know starting over in a new city will be challenging but this time around I have the joy of reflecting on how faithful God has been to my moves in the past. I guess that’s the beauty of having a walk with God, we have already been in these places together and I am thankful for journal entries that remind me of that.

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Circular Motion by Emily Elder

Over a year later, I can still remember the panicky feeling that arose when someone asked me the question, “And what are you doing after graduation?” Before applying to the Fellows Program, I usually mumbled a non-committal answer or nervously joked that I’d like to know that answer myself. I said anything to get past that moment, to avoid thinking about the uncertainty of the future.

One year later, I am faced with similar questions yet again. “What are you doing after Fellows?” “Where will you go to Church?” and “How long do you plan to stay in Nashville?” are only a few of many. Some I have answers to, while others I haven’t begun to ponder. It seems I have almost come full circle. My life of being a fellow, living with a host family, and taking classes is about to shift into full-time work, independent living, and learning to keep up with my new friends post-program. I am once more facing a time of transition and change.

So what do I do with these anxious feelings and unanswered questions? My natural tendency is to alternate between two extremes. One extreme is obsessing over the future and seeking some program or path that will provide me with answers, stability, and a comprehensive plan for the foreseeable future. Another extreme is escaping the question altogether and striving to ignore my feelings without acknowledging or dealing with them. Neither extreme allows room for God. This is when I need to dwell on one of the most valuable lessons the Fellows Program has taught me.

Every Monday afternoon we attend a leadership luncheon with a Nashville local. This individual could be a teacher, banker, freelance writer, CEO, or one of many other things. Over lunch, these people share their vocational journeys and how they ended up at their present jobs. Despite the extremely varied skills and callings these people have, their stories always display two common threads: an indirect path that held many surprises and ultimate submission to God’s plan. Though their stories always impress us, they also contain unexpected twists, sorrow, and failure. “I never imagined…” is a common refrain, followed by  “But God was faithful.”

I joined the Fellows Program partly because I wanted to discover a linear path to what my life was meant to look like. Instead, it taught me that this linear path does not exist. What does exist is our all-powerful and all-knowing God, who uses every zigzag in our story to lead us where God wills. In many ways, this might make us feel like we are going in circles. However secure I feel at the moment, there is always change and uncertainty ahead, with the potential for fear and chaos. Doubts and mistakes I thought were in my past will resurface, and I’ll have to learn again and again to lean into the Lord. What I’ve learned through Fellows suggests that this circular motion acts more as a spiral: moving round and round, but ultimately winding me closer and tighter to God.

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How My Shallow Vulnerability Turned INto Love By Sally Stroud

I am consistently overwhelmed by the love I’ve received this year. The other week at roundtable, we were having a “check-in.” This is where we check-in with Theresa and talk about how the program is treating us. I remember saying something like this: “I knew I would think you guys were okay people. But, I wasn’t expecting on gaining eight new best friends. Eight, nine including Mama T, who I know I can call at two in the morning when I can’t move or trust or feel. Eight people who are friends for life. Who have listened to my shambly, broken, and inconsistant story, and loved me just the same.”

 

As a child of church and youth groups, I’ve always heard the word vulnerability. I’ve often thought I’ve lived it. As a person who is not afraid to share her feelings, I thought I was actually pretty good at vulnerability. I’d share my story and feel good about it. I gave myself a gold star because I thought I’d done the right thing by simply sharing my shame. Turns out, I was only scraping the surface of the scars on my heart.

 

If you’ve heard of Brene Brown, I’m sure you’ve heard this quote. “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.” I had not heard this until this year. Every time I read it I get choked up. I get this way because I think of my story. My broken, often shame-filled story. I think of how every single one of my fellow Fellows have listened to my story.

 

Not only have they listened, but they’ve loved. They’ve looked on me with empathy and understanding. Hugged me, held me, cried with me, and never, ever, shamed me. This year, I’ve come to learn that vulnerability is so much more than being willing to share your story. Vulnerability is a two way street. It only works when you have people on the other side of your story willing to empathize and love you. It only works when you share your deep, dark, cellar-heart secrets, not in hopes that people will respect or revere you, but in the hope that they’ll love you. That they will straight up love the shame right out of your heart. That is what these eight people have done for me this year.

 

I had people in my childhood willing to love me, but I didn’t listen to them. I let my shame take over. I let myself believe I was not enough. Not pretty enough, skinny enough or holy enough. These eight people affirm these things about me every day. They listen to my doubts and reply with affirmations. As someone who has the love language of words of affirmation, this is a huge deal. I now have eight (nine including our Mama T) friends who have showed me what true vulnerability looks like. It looks like this picture taken by our own Jillian Runser.

 


It looks like nine people, sitting around a circle sharing food, jokes, and laughter. It happens when I’m not afraid to wear my pj’s to roundtable. It happens when I feel so loved and affirmed by friends, that I am not afraid to share what shame I feel. I know that my fellows will receive it with love and empathy. It happens when nine people from all over the country come together and without fear of shame, share their hearts and get love in return. It only happens when we are willing to look at the Father’s love for us. It happens when I pour out our inner most secrets to those who are staring at the Father and now see me through His eyes.

 

I have nine people now. Nine friends I can tell anything to. Nine friends who make me laugh when I want to cry, run when I want to fall, and pray when I want to curse. I have nine friends who have shown me that being vulnerable isn’t about making me feel good. It’s about making me see who I am in Christ. Making me see that He has taken my shame away. So, Theresa, Andy, Sara, Emily, Mary, Lauren, Ali, Jill, and Charlie. Thank you. Thank you for a sensational Fellows year. Here’s to us. Here’s to us, pouring out our shame and watching it disappear through God’s grace.

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Kyrie Eleison by Theresa Wilson

                                Nashville Fellows at St. George's Episcopal Church's Maundy Thursday service

                                Nashville Fellows at St. George's Episcopal Church's Maundy Thursday service

Each year during the spring semester, we study a theology of Sabbath with our Fellows. Sarah Puryear spent two class sessions with our Fellows in February, teaching on Sabbath rest using authors such as Norman Wirzba, Eugene Peterson, Wendell Berry, and Lauren Winner. It was a powerful time to reflect on our own patterns of rest (or lack thereof), and since Lent was just around the corner, we challenged the Fellows to incorporate a pattern of rest into their weekly routine throughout Lent. I also took up the challenge and decided to read a devotional called Bread and Wine as part of my journey into regular rhythms of rest and reflection. I had no idea how this devotional would change my view of myself and God throughout the Lenten season.

As I read through the book, the authors invited me to walk with Christ through his temptation, Passion, and crucifixion. It was an invitation to look at my own sin and realize my role in the crucifixion of Christ. I've always found the crucifixion accounts in the Gospels to be so uncomfortable... so hard to read. I've also always let myself get away with that, to some extent, until now. One of the contributors to the devotional, Fleming Rutledge, told the story of a woman who, when her church had the congregation participate in a dramatic reading of the Passion account by having them play the role of the crowd that shouts that they want Jesus crucified, commented to Fleming that she could not bring herself to shout, "Crucify him!" She was convinced that she could not say such an awful thing. Fleming wrote, "I have often thought, since, how terribly sad that was. In her stubborn blindness, [this woman] could not identify herself as a sinner like all the rest of us." Wow, a dagger to my heart. I began to allow myself to ruminate on the cross and my sin more fully than I have before.

I then came across one of the most powerful devotionals to me in this same book. Entitled "The Cross and the Cellar," Morton T. Kelsey talks of the cellar in each of us. He says, "Each of us has underneath our ordinary personality, which we show to the public, a cellar in which we hide the refuse and rubbish which we would rather not see ourselves or let others see." He reminds us that those running concentration camps in Germany were formerly peace-loving citizens, well educated and thoughtful. Until the beasts in each of them were released. Kelsey writes,

I do not like to stop and, in the silence, look within, but when I do I hear a pounding on the floor of my soul. When I open the trap door into the deep darkness I see the monsters... There emerges the sheer mindless destructive brutality of the Frankenstein monster, and next the deft and skilled Aztec priest sacrificing his victim. Then I see the image of the slave trader with his whips and chains... and then the accuser crying at me with a condemning voice.

Thankfully, though, Kelsey does not leave us languishing in the cellar. He ends by saying, "This confrontation often leads us into the pit. The empty cross is planted there to remind us that suffering is real but not the end, that victory still is possible..."

And here,  my friends, is the beauty of what I reflected on during Lent this year. As I looked on my utter depravity, I did not feel farther away from God but closer. I did not feel God's condemnation but rather his love, more strongly than I have felt it in a long time! The cross of Christ is the ultimate sacrifice of love, and therefore my sin and God's love for me are forever intertwined in the act of Christ on the cross. What a strange mixture of grief and peace, of loss and life, all at once.

I will admit - it is easier for me to dwell in sadness and a bit of hopelessness these days, given the hurt in our world currently. But to feel deep sadness without hope is to lose sight of the power of the cross. It is to not truly believe what Christ did for us. Doubt is a part of our journey, to be sure, but what a beautiful thing to know that it is precisely in moments of deep darkness that the work of the cross of Christ shines brightest. To this hope I cling!

Each year our Fellows attend St. George's Maundy Thursday service, and it is such a powerful visual reminder of what Christ did for us. One of the songs the choir sang was Ubi Caritas. I'll leave you with the words of this song below, but let me preface it by saying that one of the greatest sources of hope for me amidst the darkness in our world is seeing the Body of Christ come together in unity. One of the reasons I was drawn to working with the Nashville Fellows Program was because of its ecumenical commitment. I truly believe that now is a critical time in history for the Church to show the world a better way forward. A way that is characterized by love and unity instead of fear and division. The words to this song reminded me again of the hope that springs forth from unity in Christ's Body:

Where charity and love are, God is there. / Christ's love has gathered us into one. / Let us rejoice and be pleased in him. / Let us fear, and let us love the living God. / And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

Where charity and love are, God is there. / As we are gathered into one body, / Beware, lest we be divided in mind. / Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease, / And may Christ our God be in our midst.

Where charity and love are, God is there. / And may we with the saints also, / See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God: / The joy that is immense and good, / Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

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